Sean Doherty: The Long Shadows of Lemoore

21 Sep 2019 3 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari


2019 Freshwater Pro, Day 2

Sleep doesn’t come easy in the Tachi Palace.

It certainly didn’t for our Associate last time we were in downtown Lemoore. After a day in the pool he disappeared alone into the casino’s neon catacombs looking for dangerous company. He almost got arrested, almost got beat up, and returned to the room at dawn and kept going. We found him a few hours later passed out in a dressing gown amongst empty scotch bottles and three local ranchers asleep in their cowboy boots.

Sleep doesn’t come easy at the Tachi if you’ve got to surf this contest either. There are clearly some crew who have been thinking way too much about it. Comes with the territory really. Pool psychology runs deep. 

Jett Schilling didn’t seem to be one of them. The grommet wildcard opened the day all loose limbed and flowy. Kinda nice to see someone liberated from care. The kid had his moment. It was a cool start to the day.

Three runs of note this morning, mopping up the round.

The Panda. Who’d have thunk the underpowered band of pool wake would be able to get Willian Cardoso’s big caboose moving but move it did. There were flashbacks of Bells a few years back – the best Cardoso has ever surfed on tour – as the big guy spritzed lips this morning. The Bells comparison with the Lemoore pool made more sense watching him. His waves put him up into sixth on the leader’s board. During the week he’d publicly admonished himself for pulling a heartstring in Tahiti where he failed to engage on the big day. It was a brave admission… although opportunities for bravado at Lemoore to make up for Tahiti will be limited.

Jordy up next. The extra rail length was immediately obvious, allowing him to draw a little deeper. It was also immediately clear that Jordy, like the favourites yesterday, was idling. It was an acknowledgement that he had the lower guys covered and wasn’t extending himself much beyond that. The crispness and heft of the turns was enough, but his lines on the wave didn’t challenge much at all. Ditto Electric Phil Toledo, who surfed within himself… surfing within himself for Toledo including a mid-pool air rev and a closing club sandwich.

But if you had to characterise the surfing today you could only land on conservative. Just a handful of guys have swapped the inside tube for an air, and Pottz yesterday repeated the fabled Johnny Boy Gomes line when he’d seen too much of it. “Do something!” Four years since the pool was unveiled and a full day’s surfing today didn’t moved the needle much in terms of performance. We’ll reserve judgement until after final’s day tomorrow, but you feel a general lack of pool time during the year, the unforgiving nature of the left, and too bloated a field during the event has put the handbrake on the concept of Lemoore as a tour event. It would work better with a smaller field with more waves for each guy. The concept of starting again with the final eight tomorrow shows the WSL is in tacit agreement.

The women however have certainly moved things along. As noted ad nauseum the Lemoore wave facility is a better fit for the women and we saw that today.

Has being dropped by a major surf industry sponsor ever been more beneficial for a tour surfer than Courtney Conlogue’s parting from Billabong? It feels like she’s been completely reborn. When Billabong ditched her a couple of years back you felt she’d perform the time honoured dark pantomime of grizzling about the industry, grizzling about the tour, while her career slowly circles the drain hole. Not a chance. Courtney might be the first surfer male or female for whom being liberated from monthly contract cheques has actually been a blessing.

Her opening left today showed it. It was hard edge but also a little showy. She stretched the wings as she jammed a backhand stall for the inside tube. Pete Mel said it reminded him of a famous photo from Hawaii. He giggled. The photo in question was of Laura Blears surfing topless. That might be too much expression for the prudish purveyors of pro surfing, but the wave had colour and stood out amongst displays of metronomic turns. The judges lowballed Courtney for a 6.73. “I keep seeing the same lines,” she said afterward, “I wanted to give it a little twist.” In the last chance run in the afternoon she threw in sliding tail whips and the judges made amends, pushing her up into fourth. She’ll be there on finals day, although Steph Gilmore can bump her out of the final four tomorrow morning but needs an 8.6 to do so. Steph leads well but chasing remains something else. After today it looks like everyone will be chasing Carissa.

Last chance saloon for the guy’s as the shadows of the local ranchers on horseback lengthened. The guys in the pool were all needing sevens and eights to go into finals day, so the issue was finally forced.

They started dropping like flies. The two highest profile victims were Kanoa and Kolohe. Igarashi had the variety of turns to do something on finals day but missed the cut. Kolohe hasn’t got going in Lemoore at all and fell on both his final left and right.

It’s a fine line. I think it was Matt Warshaw who first noted when the pool was rolled out that judging this wave we’d be deducting mistakes like gymnastics, whittling scores down from 10 rather than accruing them from zero. The fine line however is that after two days of sameness, the mistakes – if you could surf out of them – also created a point of difference. Pushing the turn before tube became a ploy. If you could hold it suddenly your tube was deep enough to be worth something to the judges. Kolohe tried it on the left… and was promptly rolled across the bottom and out of Lemoore. This hasn’t been his event.

By this stage it was getting dark. Joe Turpel threw to the sponsored Jose Cuervo Classic Shot and for just a second I hoped Joe was contractually obliged to take a tequila shot (or four) for the last couple of heats. In the Precambrian, pre-WSL days this would have not only been tolerated in the commentary booth but actively encouraged. Get a couple of shots into Joe and just watch the guitar come out… I’d have liked him to commentate the final heats as mournful Buster Scruggs wild west ballads. Kolohe today would have been a perfect subject for one. Hold that thought for final’s day.

Guys were getting Chuck Norrised one after the other and the pool looked like a real pain in the ass to surf… until Owen Wright paddled out in the final heat of the day and it suddenly looked like a walk in the park. As the sun set, the onshore wind died and the left that had all day been a crumbling down the line at a breakneck clop suddenly backed off and became super whackable. Owen dropped an eight on the left, a high seven on the right, and came in scratching his balls in third place and with a guaranteed start in tomorrow’s finals.

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